Police reform charter proposition moves forward in Mpls.

Submitted photo JaNaé Bates at YES 4 MPLS’ press conference

“We have all of the tools we need to create the city that we need to thrive, not just survive,” JaNaé Bates, director of communications for Yes 4 Minneapolis said at a press conference on August 3 promoting the group’s ballot question, which could effectively eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department as we
know it. “That is a beautiful thing and we’re gonna do it together.”

The press conference was another opportunity to promote the ballot question before the municipal General Election on November 2, where city residents will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety, replacing the police-only model.

It also was held on the same night as National Night Out (NNO), a nationwide event where residents gather together for neighborhood block parties and cookouts. In the past, the annual event promoted police and community relationships, but this year most of the registered event organizers elected to
not have the police invited.

Yes 4 Minneapolis utilized the event to prepare and encourage their volunteers to have “conversations with your neighbors and talk to them about what we’re going to create together,” Bates said.

In a 12-1 vote on July 23, the Minneapolis City Council approved the language of a ballot question that would rewrite the city’s charter to remove the requirements for a police department, replacing it with a Department of Public Safety.

The ballot question was proposed and petitioned by Yes 4 Minneapolis, a multi-racial, Black-led advocacy group and coalition of residents, neighbors, businesses, organizations, faith communities, and families, according to their website.

Several groups, including Take Action Minnesota, ISAIAH, and Black Visions, spoke at the press conference. “Our current systems of public safety aren’t serving us the way we deserve,” Claduia Zavela said.

Zavela, a Take Action member and resident of the Loring Park neighborhood, added that Yes 4 Minneapolis has been doing “amazing work” for having conversations about what public safety “truly” means with Minneapolis communities.

“What we’ve been hearing so far as safety is eliminating helplessness. It’s making sure everyone has good food to eat and clean water to drink. It’s actually taking care of our loved ones with chemical dependencies, it’s making sure that people have the opportunity to look after their loved ones and identify the problem before they spiral out of control,” Zavela said.

MPD
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Kimberly Jones, who spoke on behalf of the Barbershops and Black Congregation Cooperative, a group that operates within ISAIAH, gave a brief history of Minneapolis police “to point out the obvious fact that we are still plagued with a police force unwilling to hear our cry for change,” Jones said. 

Jones compared calls to defund the police to a misspelled word that “at the right time can cause a major disruption in the loss of focus.” Jones said the death of George Floyd took the focus off the agenda of redirecting and reallocating police funding.

“We need the police, but we also need and want them to be held accountable to the community for their activity and for their actions,” Jones said.

A member of Black Visions, Justin Toliver, also spoke at the event. He said Black Visions is “excited” and in alignment with Yes 4 Minneapolis. “We must remember that safety exists beyond policing that we know,” Toliver said.

According to a flyer handed out at the press conference, “over 22,000 Minneapolis voters have signed the People’s Petition supporting the charter change amendment.”

Before the coalition made a name for itself, the Open Society Policy Center based in Washington, D.C., donated $500,000 to the political committee. The donation was included in a campaign finance report filed in January.

Following the death of Floyd, the Minneapolis City Council proposed a charter amendment last June to dismantle and restructure the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it in favor of a Department of Community Safety and Violence prevention.

But in August, the Charter Commission blocked the amendment from going on the ballot before voters in the 2020 elections and delayed the vote to allow for more time to review the proposal.

In January, Council members—Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder—renewed the charter amendment to put the question before voters in the November election.

Councilmember Schroeder told MPR that “the council authors decided to withdraw the council-created amendment to avoid confusion with a similar citizen-driven charter amendment.”

The Yes 4 Minneapolis citizen-driven charter amendment is similar to the council’s but does not include the requirement for the police.

If the amendment submitted by Yes 4 Minneapolis is adopted by voters, the functions of the Department of Public Safety is responsible for creating a comprehensive public health approach to public safety, according to the revised resolution. It would also include licensed peace officers if necessary.

“This measure would create a comprehensive public health approach to public safety, so that all of us, no matter what we look like or which neighborhood we live in, have an equal opportunity to live safely and securely,” according to the Yes 4 Minneapolis website.

The department would be overseen by a Commissioner of Public Safety, who is nominated by the mayor and appointed by the city council.

Voters will be given the option to vote either “yes” or “no” on the ballot question, which reads:

“Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach, and which would include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?”

However, Yes 4 Minneapolis filed a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis City Clerk’s Office on July 30, for exceeding their authority by adding an explanatory note to the ballot question. The lawsuit, which was filed at the Hennepin County District Court, seeks to remove the explanatory note from the ballot question.

The group’s lawsuit argues that the City doesn’t have the authority to include “explanations” of ballot questions on the actual ballot.

“No Minnesota law gives cities authority to include on the ballots its “explanation” of what the amendment would mean,” according to the petition. It states the city council’s explanatory note is not permitted by the Minnesota Constitution.

The group is also arguing that the language in the note is “unreasonable and misleading.”

“This Explanatory Notes misleads voters by suggesting that the proposed charter amendment would eliminate certain public safety functions. The proposed charter amendment does not propose to eliminate any public safety functions, but instead, seeks to combine those functions, which are part of the responsibility of the City of Minneapolis and identified by the City Council into a comprehensive approach.”

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